Feature

Getting the flavor of...The safe side of Iraq

An increasing number of travelers are drawn to the relatively serene Kurdistan region.

The safe side of IraqThe Iraq war is over—at least in one small corner of the country, said Bob Payne in Condé Nast Traveler. “Postwar curiosity” has begun drawing an increasing number of travelers to the relatively serene Kurdistan region, in northern Iraq. While the U.S. State Department still considers the area dangerous, Britain disagrees, and visitors who hesitate to go might regret it: “Thanks to oil money, reconstruction is in full swing, which means that the few villages left after Saddam Hussein destroyed 4,000 of them won’t remain villages for long.” Arbil, the region’s capital, is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities and is set appealingly against “snowcapped mountains.” Beyond the city, visitors can journey “up into the mountains and past waterfalls” along Hamilton Road, a tourist trail that was “once a route fiercely fought over by warring factions.” Be cautious, though, about “following the road to its end”: It leaves you right at the Iranian border.

Azerbaijan’s ambitious capitalAfter a century of war and Soviet control, Baku, Azerbaijan, is remaking itself in a hurry, said Kathleen Kingsbury in The New York Times. In this oil-rich capital city on the Caspian Sea, “a grand—if still hazy—vision is beginning to take shape.” Several luxury hotels and “a Guggenheim Bilbao–style project” are still mostly talk, but a new Museum of Modern Art has already popped up near the city’s promenade, which in turn should soon be adding “futuristic malls,” cinemas, and arcades. Already, Baku boasts a stirring mix of “old world warmth” and “oil rich” opulence. “Magnificent beaux arts mansions,” built by the city’s first oil barons, now house outlets for Gucci and Harry Winston. Yet despite all the changes afoot, much of the city’s social life still takes place in its cayxanas—teahouses that are, by custom, off-limits to women. The setup seems to work: It “gives the husbands a place to go.”

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